The protagonist in the movie Hugo offers valuable insight into the primal motivation at the core of every soul.  Hugo, an orphan in Paris, engages in a persistent – almost obsessive – endeavor to repair an automaton, which his father worked on before dying during Hugo’s childhood. Unknown to the audience for much of the movie, Hugo’s project is driven by the hope of discovering a message from his late father to him, hidden within the machine.

Hugo never discloses specifically what he hopes that message will be, but one only can assume that the words he seeks are the very ones every person wants to hear from his or her parents.

Hugo’s sense of estrangement and hope for some kind of connection with his distant father mirrors the universal impulse of the human heart. At the same time, it also resembles a prevalent ailment in present-day teen culture.

Much research and literature has been committed to trend of abandonment among teens. The term abandonment in this context does not refer to teens being left on a doorstep or at a shopping mall for good but to an intense sense of disconnection and isolation teens experience in their family and community systems. Ironically, adolescents have never been so “connected” via technology and media, and yet they have never expressed such a deep sense of loneliness. In some contexts, the issue is so deep that some youth workers liken their ministry to teens to working with orphaned children.

Very often, we speak of the Gospel in terms of justification, the action by which God makes ungodly sinners completely right and perfectly acceptable through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Given the emotional and social landscape of American teenagers, making an effort to include the element of spiritual adoption in proclamation of the Gospel to youth has particular relevance. Adoption involves the reality where God brings justified sinners into His family, as sons and daughters. The benefit of inheriting a Perfect Parent and entering an eternal fellowship offers great hope to estranged teenagers.

Hugo offers a portrait of the heart-level desire and pursuit of teens (and all people for that matter). Below all of the quirky interests, lofty aspirations, surprising addictions, and self-destructive behavior, exists an orphaned heart eagerly hoping for a message of unconditional love and uncritical acceptance.

The Gospel stands as the only satisfactory salve for these wounded hearts. The reality that God lives as a perfect Father who adopts the ungodly into His Family and delivers the estranged into unity with Himself and others, offers hope.

This issue and illustration are the essence of the 2012 Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry. The theme, Adopted: The Beauty of Grace, focuses on how the message of God’s adopting love speaks to a generation of abandoned teens. Rooted takes place in Birmingham, Alabama on August 9-11, 2012 at the  Cathedral Church of the Advent.